Save Seattle Center!

The Seattle City Council bailed out Seattle Center last year, voting to loan the Center $10 million. It's no wonder the city, which traditionally funds 25 percent of the Center's costs, decided to kick in the extra dough: Thanks to slumping attendance at Center venues like KeyArena, Seattle Center was facing a $5.6 million deficit in 2002. Despite the city bailout, Seattle Center continues to face a deficit this year. It's now $7.1 million in the red.

Next week, the city council will vote on another (less expensive) option that could actually save the Center: Run the monorail line right through it! "I think it gives us the opportunity to make the Center a grand quilt of things and people and activities coming together," says Seattle Center Director Virginia Anderson. Anderson is not alone. An April 6 letter to council from nearly 30 Seattle Center-area folks including the Queen Anne Community Council, Pacific Science Center, Seattle Sonics, etc., etc. asked council to pass the pending legislation. "Traveling through Seattle Center will be the most beneficial route for businesses, residents, and tourists," the letter states, citing everything from honoring the futuristic intent of the Seattle Center's World's Fair design to freeing up both First Avenue and Mercer Street from monorail guideways and construction--allowing long-standing community plans for redevelopment on those corridors. More important, it will bring thousands through the attendance-deprived Center everyday.

Problem is, after a barrage of lobbying from Bumbershoot organizers (Bumbershoot is at Seattle Center just four days a year, by the way) and "green space" activists (there are just two blocks of green space at the Center, located near an amusement park, a basketball stadium, and noisy rock shows) the council seems terrified of actually moving forward. Things are heading toward a five to four vote that could go either way. Even longtime monorail supporter Nick Licata is getting cold feet: He was evasive when I asked him about his vote, saying simply that Seattle Center is "public land." (That's right, Nick, but much of the route from Ballard to West Seattle is also on public right of way, which is why it's so cool.)

Seattle Center Director Anderson says if the council votes against going through the Center, it will be a "missed opportunity." She's right. The council tried to save the Center once before, by approving a huge loan. It didn't work, because the Center--even with the vaunted ashram of green space that's so dear to activists--is on the dramatic decline. Seems the Center's not a hot destination right now. Rather than papering over the problem by lending money to a place with declining revenues. The council should try truly saving it, by sending a public rapid transit line, and its thousands of riders, right through it. It doesn't add a dime to the city budget and it would honor a year's worth of public process between the monorail agency and the Seattle Center stakeholders, nearly 30 of whom signed that letter. Add your voice: There's an April 26 public hearing at city council.

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